Between Boko Haram and Advocates Of Child Marriage ,By Niran Adedokun



niran(1)Now, I can understand why those who have been killing school children in the North-Eastern part of the country could be so audacious.
As we are told, their main grouse is with western education and the attendant western way of life. In fact, Boko Haram, the name by which members of the Jamā’a Ahl al-sunnah li-da’wa wa al-jihād)are commonly known, translates to “western education is sinful” These insurgents that have wittingly turned parts of the North into a killing field of sorts are clearly out to fight everyone that may have acquired western education or is perceived to live in some westernised way, but to be totally impactful, they aspire for more. Their style has also shown the desperation to stop Northern children from acquiring education after which they plan to conquer the whole of Nigeria and force all of us to stop sending our children to school.
Recently, I was wondering how these insurgents got this far in the execution of their evil plan, especially in the lifetime of so many respected traditional, religious and political leaders in the region. Now, I know how. How would a society with the Yerimas of this world join the fight against Boko Haram when its defeat would most likely compel parents to educate their children, including girl-children, which would deny them the opportunity to defile as many teenage girls as would last their entire lifetime? Now, I see the tacit approval, albeit through silence, of the need to stop children from getting educated, since the education of girls remains the greatest threat to their paedophiliac perversions. Now, I see why they cannot speak against the evils in the North. The complicity of Senator Sani Yerima and his cohorts was exposed on the floor of the Senate last Tuesday.
In the strict sense of it, the Senate did not pass any law having regard to legalising child marriage on Tuesday, July 18, 2013 or at any time for that matter. Let us go through the events of that day to have a better understanding. Amongst many other provisions, the Senator Ike Ekweremadu committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution had recommended the amendment of a part of Section 29 which deals with the renunciation of Nigerian citizenship. S.29(1) prescribes that Nigerians who are of “full age” would be at liberty to renounce their citizenship provided they met certain other conditions which are enumerated in the succeeding subsections. However, while S.29 (4a) prescribes that: “full age means the age of 18 years and above”, 29(4b) states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.” The committee sought the deletion of the clause 29 (4b) apparently with the understanding that many girls are forced into marriage before their 18th birthday and that since 18 signifies adulthood in various other parts of our national life, it would be improper to afford girls who cannot obtain driving licences, cannot vote or be voted for, the opportunity to renounce their citizenship on the basis of their marital status.
Senators voted overwhelmingly for the deletion of this repugnant provision and all was well until Senator Yerima, a former Governor of Zamfara State, reputed to have travelled to Egypt to marry a 13-year-old girl in 2010, stood up to protest the “injustice” in the deletion of S29(4b). Waving the religious card, Yerima who was evidently prepared for his intervention, told his colleagues how Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution guarantees the right of every Nigerian to privacy, freedom of expression and religion and how deleting this provision would trample on the belief of Muslims that any married girl is of full age. He also reminded them that Item 61 under Part1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution otherwise known as the Exclusive legislative list forbids the Senate from prescribing laws related to the “formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages…” contracted under Islamic and customary law. With this well-orchestrated argument and the confidence that he would have won a few more people to his side, Yerima and his supporters armtwisted the Senate President, David Mark, into calling for another rounds of voting and the rest is history.
I have listened to arguments about why Nigerians do not need to worry about the failure of the Senate to delete this provision of the Constitution especially since the Section 277 of the Child Rights Act, 2003 defines a minor as anyone under 18 years of age and Sections 21, 22 and 23 of the same law outlaws and criminalises child marriage, but last Tuesday’s event makes that position a precarious one. This is because the provisions of the Child Rights Acts cannot override any part of the constitution as stated in Chapter 1 of the constitution. More than that, people who are determined to have children as brides would employ provisions of the constitutions as borrowed by Yerima to justify their actions.
It is also important to know that 10 years after the National Assembly passed the Child Rights Acts, 12 out of the 36 states in Nigeria have not adopted the law and 11 of these 12 states are in Northern Nigeria. The implication of this is that we cannot currently depend on the Child Rights Act in the definition of age for the attainment of adulthood in Nigeria as the violation of the rights of children would most likely go without restitution in any and all of the states which have not passed the law.
What happened at the Senate last week, however, presents everyone who is interested in the future of Nigeria an opportunity to come together and campaign for the domestication of the Child Rights Law in all states. In addition to mounting pressure on governments in these states, stakeholders must mobilise to enlighten parents and the general populace on the need to secure the future of our children by requesting the passage of the law in their states. We must let them see the education of the girl child as important to making to their own future. That with the singular instrument of education, it is possible to tackle the dangers of poverty, income inequalities, underdevelopment, gender disparities, vesicovagina fistula, child morality, illiteracy, gender-based violence and even harmful traditional practices which all diminish our country’s development.
The event also brought one of the booby traps in the 1999 Constitution to light, which is Item 61 of Part 1, under the Second Schedule. I am confident that there would be so many other such provisions injected into the constitution to satisfy the selfish interest of some Nigerians. It is the right time for every right-thinking member of the National Assembly to speak against every little provision that compromises our future. It is one of those occasions that we would not mind the throwing of chairs in the chambers. It is the moment for members of the House of Representatives to show that they are not mere grandstanders. It is the time also for the Houses of Assembly all over Nigeria to stand up on behalf of the Nigerian child. It is one of those few moments that every well-meaning Nigerian should shout and reject the tyranny of these minority enemies of our progress. If we fail to achieve this, we may as well bid farewell to any future at all, let alone that of a prosperous one.
•Adedokun, a Lagos-based media consultant and analyst, wrote in via [email protected] Twitter: @niranadedokun


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